Doklam standoff: Rajnath Singh just made a cryptic remark about China

It is puzzling because there are no indications from either side that India and China are even engaged in serious formal talks.

 |  5-minute read |   21-08-2017
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Union home minister Rajnath Singh made a puzzling remark a few hours ago that a solution to the ongoing Doklam standoff would be found soon.

"There will be a solution soon and I am sure China will make a positive move," he was quoted as saying at an event organised by the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

It is puzzling because there are no indications from either side that India and China are even engaged in serious formal talks, leave alone resolving the standoff.

On the contrary, the recent events involving the two Asian giants have triggered a serious deterioration of the Sino-Indian bilateral relations. And yet the cryptic remark of an impending resolution of the standoff coming from a senior cabinet minister who has a knack of boldly airing his thoughts, a rarity in the Modi dispensation, cannot be taken lightly. Obviously, he has reasons to say what no other Modi government minister or official has said thus far on the Doklam crisis.

We can only keep our fingers crossed and wait for the positive events to unfold as the minister has stated. But the past one week has injected more bitterness and distrust in India-China bilateral affairs.

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The biggest negative development, and an unprecedented one in context of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, was the scuffle involving Indian and Chinese troops in the Pangong Lake area in Ladakh on August 15. The unprecedented nature of the Pangong scuffle was that the two sides hurled stones at each other, resulting in injuries on both sides.

This is a strange incident which has shattered the myth of Sino-Indian border maintaining tranquility for decades. And whoever said that nuclear weapons will take the world back to the Stone Age has ironically been proven right in a way, as a brief video of the incident shows the troops of the two nuclear weapons countries fighting it out with stones in the icy heights of Ladakh.

The Pangong scuffle has come about at a time when the Doklam standoff continues since June 16 and the two sides slugging it out with stones in Ladakh only goes to show that the Sino-Indian tensions are getting out of control. Now if a responsible cabinet minister like Rajnath Singh makes a cryptic statement of a positive resolution of the Doklam crisis against this volatile backdrop, it assumes all the more significance.

It is difficult to see how a resolution would be brought about considering that the two sides continue to stick to their respectively stated positions and have ruled out unilateral withdrawal of troops. Both sides have their respective national prestige at stake. But the Chinese stakes are even higher.

No country has taken on China and stood up to it for years the way India has done. Powers such as Japan, the United States and Vietnam, all of whom have bitterly opposed China's arm-twisting methods, have not poked the dragon in the eye the way India has done in Doklam since June 16. And mind you, Doklam has nothing to do with the Sino-Indian boundary dispute as Doklam is essentially a China-Bhutan border issue.

The Chinese sweepstakes over this crisis are considerably higher than India’s because India not getting cowed down by dozens of threats of war handed out by Chinese civil and military officials and the state-owned Chinese media would only portray Beijing in bad light among its cronies and vassal states.

More so at a time when China has shown an unseemly haste in assuming the leadership of the world and embarked upon a $90 billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to forge new transcontinental trade corridors.

The Chinese discomfiture gets further accentuated when it is for the world to see that India has taken the onerous risk of a war with China for safeguarding a tiny nation like Bhutan. The black appears blacker when juxtaposed with the white. This is precisely the Chinese dilemma.

There can be one possible explanation of Rajnath Singh's optimism about a solution of the Doklam standoff. China is going to host the next BRICS summit in less than two weeks from now. It would obviously want to see that the BRICS summit is a resounding success. Russia has long been playing the role of an arbiter of sorts between India and China, albeit with little or no success.

However, it’s difficult to see China pushing its national imperatives on the back burner for the sake of making a multilateral event a success. Moreover, the Russian mediation hasn’t exactly moved mountains as is clear by the fact that the Chinese have been blocking a RIC (Russia, India, China) foreign ministers’ meeting even before the Doklam crisis erupted.

Nonetheless, the upcoming BRICS summit in Zaimen, China, would still present a valuable opportunity for India and China to take up the Doklam issue at the highest political level. However, the Ministry of External Affairs is yet to confirm whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be travelling to China for attending the September 3-5 BRICS summit, though it is highly unlikely that Modi would skip the summit.

In conclusion, one can say that the Indian home minister’s optimistic statement needs to be welcomed as it comes like an oasis in a vast desert. Although there are no tools available to verify the veracity of his remark, one can only say that Rajnath Singh is holding an exalted office and his remarks need to be considered seriously.

Needless to say, the world will be watching and hoping that his remarks ring out to be true.

Also read: Doklam standoff: Why India appears strong and China weak

Writer

Rajeev Sharma Rajeev Sharma @kishkindha

The writer is an independent journalist and a strategic analyst.

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